Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti met party leaders on Saturday to drum up support for new measures designed to shore up public finances, helping growth and calming the debt crisis in the eurozone’s third-largest economy.
His Cabinet is scheduled to approve the package of reforms today, a step widely seen as vital for re-establishing Italy’s shattered credibility with financial markets after a series of unfulfilled promises by the previous government.
The plan will then be outlined at two news conferences — one with foreign reporters — and presented in both houses of parliament.
Italy has been at the center of Europe’s debt crisis since yields on its 10-year bonds shot up to about 7 percent, similar to levels seen when countries like Greece and Ireland were forced to seek a bailout.
Government sources familiar with the planned reforms say the mix of cuts and tax rises will total about 20 billion to 25 billion euros (US$26.8 billion to US$33.5 billion) over the next two years, about half of which will be used to reduce the budget deficit and help balance the budget by 2013 despite the economic downturn and rising borrowing costs.
The rest will free up resources to try to regenerate Italy’s recession--bound economy.
Pier Ferdinando Casini, head of the centrist Union of the Center party, said after meeting Monti that the measures would be severe but hopefully also fair.
“When the doctor arrives, it’s difficult to prescribe nice medicine. Medicine is always bitter, but sometimes inevitable to prevent the patient dying,” he told a news conference.
Angelino Alfano, secretary of former Italian prime minister -Silvio Berlusconi’s PDL party, urged Monti to ensure the cuts did not fall heavily on people who have always shouldered the burden and to show special consideration for families.
The plan is expected to include an increase in the retirement age for many workers, liberalize professional services, increase income tax in higher income brackets and introduce new taxes on private assets and luxury goods.
However, it has not yet fully convinced the center-left Democratic Party’s leader Pier Luigi Bersani, who said groups like low earners and pensioners needed greater protection and that measures to fight tax evasion were insufficient.
Monti was to have met unions and local authorities yesterday to try to reach a broad consensus on the plan. He has said fairness is one of the key priorities of his reforms, but unions are grumbling about possible pension and labor market changes.
Susanna Camusso, secretary of Italy’s biggest union CGIL, said she was struggling to see signs of equity in the plan, based on what she knew so far from reports, but would wait until after speaking to Mont to make her judgment.
“We are ready to support the right decisions but also determined to oppose those we consider wrong,” she said at a union meeting on Saturday.
Monti will have to balance the competing needs of showing budget rigor, while not choking off growth, without which it will be impossible to reduce a debt mountain equivalent to 120 percent of GDP.
Changes to pensions will be key in the new reform plan, with eligibility requirements toughened up for so-called seniority pensions which are based on a combination of workers’ age and the years for which they have paid contributions.